9. Elijah Ministers to Obadiah (1 Kings 18:7-15)
The Confrontation on Mount Carmel (Scene 2)
Let’s review again the theme and purpose of 1 Kings 18. It is the story of Elijah’s confrontation with the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel. But equally important, it is also the story of the end of the three-and-a-half years of drought in the land of Israel. In fact, the confrontation on Mount Carmel was designed to show that the drought was not merely an unfortunate coincidence of nature, but Yahweh’s discipline as the one and only true God. The rain and the end of the drought were likewise the work of Yahweh, and not Baal, the so-called god of thunder, rain, and fertility.
In the process of developing this larger story and its truth, a number of smaller incidents occur and each has its own message to tell. In other words, there is the big picture, the main plot of the story, and there are also smaller stories, each with its own lesson. As believers in Christ, we are all part of a big picture which includes many little stories each with opportunities for growth, ministry, and glory to God. We want to focus our attention on Elijah’s meeting with Obadiah, a fellow believer, and see how Elijah ministered to him.
Three-and-half-years had passed since Elijah marched up the steps of the palace and into the throne room of King Ahab to announce the fact there would be no rain again except by the word of the Prophet who was, of course, but the mouth piece of the Lord. The clouds and the rain had been driven from the land of Israel, and the pain and misery within the kingdom had become more and more pressing.
Ahab had searched both the land and the neighboring countries for Elijah, but in vain. He was angry and frustrated over his futile attempts to locate the prophet (18:10). Furthermore, Jezebel had worked her futile vengeance on all the prophets of the Lord that she could get her hands on, as if they had been Elijah’s accomplices and their deaths would somehow bring an end to the drought (18:4). Perhaps she thought if all the representatives of Yahweh were exterminated, His power could no longer be exercised in the land. Primarily, it was her desire to get revenge and crush all resistance to her insidious will that drove her to kill the prophets.
Weary day after weary day crept by with the sun rising and sinking on a cloudless sky over an arid land. There was no sign of relief. Ahab stayed in Samaria to attend to pressing matters caused by the drought while Jezebel was in the cool summer residence at Jezreel (cf. 18:45-46; 21:1-2).
In the meantime, the Word of the Lord came to Elijah who is told to show himself to King Ahab. This meant it was time to demonstrate the power of the true God and to face the nation with a decision to choose for the Lord. Therefore, in the verses that follow, God providentially worked to bring about the meeting with Ahab through another of God’s servants named Obadiah. But, as is always the case, the Lord works on many fronts at the same time. Not only was He working to bring Elijah and King Ahab together, but He would use Elijah in the life of Obadiah to strengthen his faith and broaden his capacity for ministry. This story shows us how, in the process of using us in God’s primary purpose, the Lord also wants to use us with others whom He brings into our lives along the way. Life is full of opportunities for ministry if only we have eyes to see them!
Elijah Encounters Obadiah
Obadiah was a court official in charge of the household of the King; a steward and manager of the palace and all its affairs. This meant he had a high position and the responsibility of leadership himself (vs. 3a). He was also a believer who feared the Lord and was a man of faith (vs. 3b). Because of his faith he had hidden 100 prophets from Jezebel. Like all of us, however, his faith needed further growth and maturity. And he needed encouragement.
God is in the business of stretching us to become more effective vessels for His purposes. We, however, like to stay within the comfort zones of our little routines, which include our places of work and even our places of spiritual ministry. This was the case with Obadiah but the Lord had other plans for him--just as He has for us. It was God’s plan to use the younger prophet to announce Elijah’s presence to Ahab. Due to the conditions, this was no small challenge.
“Now as Obadiah was on the way, behold . . .” When did Obadiah face this test and challenge to be God’s messenger of Elijah’s presence to Ahab? While he was on the job, attending to the King’s business. This is life. This is where the tests of obedience and challenges come--while we are out involved in the everyday affairs of life. Here is where we meet people and needs and here is where God wants to work to stretch our faith.
Have you ever noticed that the trials of life usually do not come when we are in church all cozy and asleep. Excuse me! I mean, listening to inspiring hymns and stimulating messages. No! Usually they come when you are not being highly motivated by inspirational settings. Tests and challenges come when we are faced with drought-like conditions, with difficult personalities, with temptation, and the manifold pressures of life. Then our motivation, our courage, and obedience have to truly come from the Lord and faith in Him.
We have all seen old movies or news strips of our Marines taking the beach head on Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima or Normandy. Usually, in the background is playing a song like From the Halls of Montezuma, or our National Anthem. This stirs the emotions but in the real-life situations, there was no music. It was all blood and guts, and without being properly drilled, disciplined, and trained, these men would have fallen apart. Were they scared? Certainly! But it was their training and mental toughness that gave them the faith and courage to charge up those beaches.
To further illustrate this, let’s compare Elijah and Obadiah:
(1) Both were believers, both loved the Word and the Lord. Both had served the Lord and others, and had shown courage. It took the courage of faith for Obadiah to hide 100 prophets and care for them.
(2) Elijah, however, had just come from a time of special preparation and solitude with the Lord and with confirmation in the home of the widow and her son. Thus, when the call came to show himself to Ahab, he arose and went trusting in the Lord. His delight was to serve the Lord and accomplish His purpose.
(3) With Obadiah, it had been different. He had been working with unbelievers and living in the midst of idolatry. This was not wrong. Though we are not to be of the world, God has called us to go out into the world and into the work place to demonstrate God’s love and the new life we have in the Savior. But Obadiah had probably been without much close fellowship and the encouragement of other strong believers. His time with the prophets that were hidden away was undoubtedly encouraging, but most likely very short and sporadic.
Verse 13 might suggest Obadiah was a victim of the past victories syndrome. He may have been looking back at what he had done for God rather than focusing on the Lord Himself and what God had done through him. Since the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever, remembering the past can be beneficial as long as we use it to remind us of what God is able to do today or tomorrow. Obadiah was not very prepared for his encounter with Elijah, but he was open and positive and he becomes one of God’s chosen instruments in this drama that helps to prepare the way for Mount Carmel. But first, he needed the encouragement of Elijah. Truly, this illustrates our need of one another and the encouragement and challenge that we can get from each other in the body of Christ.
“Behold, Elijah met him.” As in chapter 17, the word “behold” is here for a reason. This is again the Hebrew hinneh, an interjection used 942 time in the Old Testament to arrest attention. It means “look!” “see!” It is used to point something out and to emphasize the information that follows. What is so important about the fact Elijah met him while “Obadiah was on the way”?
First, it strongly points to the loving fact of God’s providence. Here was Elijah in hostile territory sent to accomplish God’s will and carry out one of God’s purposes for his life. Elijah does not have to go into the capitol, Samaria. Instead, God prearranges a meeting with a faithful follower of the Lord, one who had demonstrated courage, and one who had access to and the confidence of the King as very few might have. This was not by mere chance.
Captain Johnson was serving as chaplain in the South Pacific during WW II. He prepared to go on a bombing raid over enemy-occupied islands several hundred miles away. The mission was a complete success, but on the homeward course the plane began to lose altitude and the engines faded out. A safe landing was made on a strange island. It was learned later that the enemy was just one-half mile in each direction, yet the landing had gone undetected.
The staff sergeant came to the chaplain and said, “Chaplain, you have been telling us for months of the need of praying and believing God answers prayer in time of trouble, and that He does it right away. We’re out of gas, base is several hundred miles away and we are almost surrounded by the enemy.”
Johnson began to pray and to lay hold of the promises of God and believed that God would work a miracle. Night came and the chaplain continued his intense prayer. About 2 A.M. the sergeant awakened and felt compelled to walk to the water’s edge. He discovered a metal float which had drifted up on the beach--[loaded with barrels of] octane gas. In a few hours the crew reached their home base safely.
An investigation revealed that the skipper of a U.S. tanker, finding his ship in sub-infested waters, had his gasoline cargo removed so as to minimize the danger in case of a torpedo hit. Barrels were placed on barges and put adrift six hundred miles from where Johnson and the plane crew were forced down. God had navigated one of these barges through wind and current and beached it fifty steps from the stranded men.18
Second, it reminds us of God’s loving care (1 Pet. 5:7), and if God sends us to do a job, He will provide the resources we need (Phil. 4:13, 19).
“And he (Obadiah) recognized him and fell on his face.” In the book of Revelation when the Apostle John fell on his face before the angel at the announcement of the marriage feast of the Lamb, the angel said, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren . . . worship God” (Rev. 19:10; cf. also 22:8-9). John’s actions fell in the realm of worship for the angel of this wonderful revelation. Because Elijah did not correct Obadiah’s action, this was merely seen as respect for the prophet as a true man of God with the word of God fulfilling the mission of God. Since he called Elijah his master in verse 7, this may indicate that Obadiah belonged to the school of the prophets of which Elijah was a headmaster. It was a term of reverence and recognition of Elijah’s leadership within Israel.
Elijah Calls for Obadiah’s Help
As those World War II airmen saw that barge of oil as a God-send, so Elijah obviously saw Obadiah as a God-send. Here was the logical, indeed, the perfect person to send word to the King. But would you also note that Elijah had not prayed for a miracle. At least there is no record of it. He didn’t ask God to give the King a vision to come and meet him. He used the means and opportunities that God sent his way--and so should we.
This illustrates the principle of getting help from people according to their training, gifts, talents, opportunities, and of course, their availability to the Lord. Sometimes, as we will see here, that takes encouragement and biblical insight from us or the promise of our aid and faithfulness.
Obadiah Responds with Fear and Excuses
During a combined elder/deacon meeting in one of my ministries we were examining some of the things that could be keeping us as men and as a church from moving more in the direction of the ideal--of what God has called us to be. One of the things mentioned was the fear or anxiety we often face when asked to consider certain ministries or responsibilities. We all face the problem of fear at times. We might be afraid we will lack what it takes to handle the job. We might be afraid of what it may cost us. Afraid of having to give up our time, comfort, or the things we love to do.
In times of real persecution, serving the Lord can be life threatening, as it was for Obadiah. For most of us, our fears generally fall into three categories: (a) fear of failure, (b) fear of rejection, and (c) fear of loss, i.e., fear we might have to give up something we think we must have to be happy. The cost of this rejection can be anything from being snubbed or having people think we are odd or dumb, to loss of a job, or even one’s way of life.
Fear can paralyze and thus neutralize us. Fear can keep us from venturing out and being available to the Lord. This was what was happening to Obadiah. But we have a mighty God who has promised to stand with us so we can overcome our fears. We are told in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity (fear), but of power and love and discipline (a sound mind).” We need the encouragement of others, as happened here. We need the power of a Spirit-filled, Word-filled life. We need genuine love that is willing to sacrifice for God and others. And we need the discipline of sound mind thinking that counts on the promises and principles of Scripture.
Obadiah’s thinking was undermining his ability to respond to Elijah’s request and need. It shows us how we need to bring every thought into captivity and to think with the perspective of the promises and principles of God’s Word.
(1) There seemed to be a misconception about trials or difficult assignments. He evidently saw them as one of God’s means of punishment for sin (vs. 9). This illustrates our need to know God’s Word, understand His grace, and keep short accounts with the Lord concerning sin in our lives. Certainly, one of the causes for suffering is discipline from the hand of a loving God who is seeking to train His children. But as stated in previous lessons, it is only one of many causes.
(2) There was a misdirection of his focus. Obadiah had his eyes on the problems rather than the Lord. A wrong focus makes mountains out of mole hills and in our perspective reduces the Lord to a mole hill. It’s the age old grasshopper syndrome of Numbers 13.
(3) There was a mismanagement of his mind. He failed to control his mind or thought patterns with the promises and principles of the Word, as we are challenged to do in Philippians 4:8 and 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.
When we fail to focus on God’s person and claim God’s promises as did Obadiah, we start assuming all kinds of things about what can or is happening. We become rather paranoid. Obadiah imagined Elijah would disappear and he could just see himself hanging from the gallows (vs. 12). When we do not control our minds with the principles and promises of God’s Word, our imaginations will paralyze us with fear.
Ahab had so long and so systematically sought for Elijah, that Obadiah could only imagine the prophet had been miraculously removed from shelter to shelter, just in time to save him from being detected by the messengers of Ahab. In point of fact, we know that such was not the case; but those who have lost the habit of seeing God in the ordinary Providence of everyday life--as is the case with all who are conformed to the world--are too often in the habit of looking for things strange, or for miracles, and thus become at the same time superstitious and unbelieving.19
(4) There was also a misplacement of his confidence or faith. It seems he was trusting more in his past performance than in the ever present reality of God’s presence and power. Knowing our God-given gifts and talents is important to our confidence in God’s will and the ability to do a job. The primary basis of our effectiveness or ability to do a job, however, is never our record nor our gifts and training but God and His faithfulness--ALWAYS.
Elijah Removes Obadiah’s Fear
He Proclaimed God’s Person
This is seen in the words, “As the Lord of Hosts lives.” Elijah was firmly convinced of the aliveness of Yahweh and His mighty power as the Lord of Hosts (or Armies), the Lord who has all of heaven’s mighty and holy angels at His command. By this oath, Elijah was focusing Obadiah’s eyes on the Lord and assuring him that his own life was ordered by this fact.
As believers in Christ and especially as leaders, we need to help others to see the majesty of the Lord and see that our lives are ordered and directed by that same majesty. This illustrates why it is so important for leaders to be models of integrity, men and women who are faithful and stable. One of the signs of decay in a church or in a nation is when the leadership acts as capricious children governed by their own whims and fancies (cf. Isa. 3:4).
He Pointed to His Call and Commitment
This is seen in the words, “before whom I stand.” Here Elijah assures Obadiah that he was, above all else, one of God’s men and that he stood to serve the Lord and not himself. He was not controlled by self-protective measures or capricious whims. Believers need to give evidence they are under God’s orders, at God’s disposal, and truly His representatives governed by the eternal truths of God and thereby reliable.
He Promised to Not Let Obadiah Down
By the words, “I will surely show myself to him today,” Elijah was assuring Obadiah that he could count on him. He would not let him down and would be there as promised. The emphasis here is “You can count on me because I am counting on the Lord.” Obadiah knew from the life and history of the prophet that Elijah could be counted on. Faithfulness is such a needed quality. What is faithfulness? It is the product of a life full of faith.
Obadiah Responds with Courage
Part of Obadiah’s anxiety and uncertainty was caused by the fact he was not sure of God’s will or of what was going on. He needed the motivation of Elijah’s leadership through the example and encouragement of the prophet. We all vary in our leadership roles, but there is a sense in which we each have some kind of influence on others as believer priests, as those who are to function as salt and light, and as people who are to be an encouragement to those around us. As we see in this passage, God wants us be sensitive to needs and to be examples by demonstrating the reality of Christ in authentic Christianity. “Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11).
(1) Are you facing the challenge of a ministry opportunity, but find you are fearful? Then find a mature believer and seek their encouragement and guidance to strengthen your trust in the Lord.
(2) Perhaps you know of someone who is facing the challenge of a ministry opportunity, but is holding back because of fear or anxiety. Then try to reach out to encourage them.
(3) Are you fearful of ministry opportunities? Then evaluate your thinking. Are you making mountains out of mole hills? Are your eyes on the problem rather than on the Lord? Are you seeking your happiness, significance and security from people rather than in Christ? Are you resting on your past victories instead of on God’s presence and provision?
Related Topics: Character Study